Friday, July 09, 2010

July 9: British Versus American English Day

Today is the anniversary of the first Wimbledon Tennis Tournament in 1877. The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club was established in Wimbledon, a suburb of London, in 1868.

The growth in popularity of lawn tennis led to the decision to hold a gentlemen's singles tournament in the summer of 1877. The rules for this first tournament, written by club member Dr. Henry Jones, established fundamental aspects of the game, such as:

-The size of the court: 78 feet by 27 feet.
-The scoring system for each game: 15, 30, 40, game.
-The number of games required to win a set: 6.
-The number of faults allowed for each service: 1.

This first tournament was won by W. Spencer Gore who was first in a field of 21 (1).

Today the Wimbledon tournament is alive and well as the world's preeminent tennis tournament and the third and final jewel in the Grand Slam of tennis. Although it is open to a host of international competitors from more than 60 nations, it remains uniquely British. For example, above the players’ entrance to Centre Court there is a quote from British poet Rudyard Kipling from his poem "If": If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.

Even American television sports broadcasters refer to it as the Wimbledon fortnight. Fortnight is a British term meaning a period of two weeks.

It was Oscar Wilde who said that Britain and America are "two great countries divided by a common language." Wilde was exaggerating for the sake of humor, but there certainly are distinct differences, beyond just spelling and pronunciation, in British English and American English. Fortnight is just one of 4,000 vocabulary words in common usage that differ depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on . Examples are life and elevator, dustbin and garbage can, and biscuit and cookies (2).

The first American men's champion at Wimbledon was Bill Tilden in 1930. There has not been a British men's champion since 1936.

Today's Challenge: English on Holiday (or Is that Vacation?)

See if you can translate the British words below into American English.

1. candy floss

2. to grizzle

3. inverted commas

4. to nick

5. lorry

6. pram

7. knackered

8. windscreen

9. nappy

10. torch (3)

Quotes of the Day:

-America is a country that doesn't know where it is going but is determined to set a speed record getting there. -- Laurence J. Peter

-If a playwright is funny, the English look for a serious message, and if he's serious, they look for the joke. --Sacha Guitry.

Answers. 1. cotton candy 2. to whine 3. quotation marks 4. to steal 5. truck 6. baby carriage 7. worn out 8. windshield 9. diaper 10. flashlight

1 - This Day in History, July 9, General Interest. The History Channel

2 - Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue. New York: Perennial, 1990.

3 - Reader's Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

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